Gur­net Point-backed Au­re­gen taps Am­gen vet to lead; Ex-Roche RNA chief takes CEO post at Genevant

Gur­net Point Cap­i­tal-backed Au­re­gen Bio­Ther­a­peu­tics has tapped Am­gen vet Richard Davies to lead its rare dis­ease cell ther­a­py’s en­try in­to the clin­ic as CEO. Davies, a for­mer Hos­pi­ra chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer who had his first chief ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence re­cent­ly at Bone­sup­port, will lead the dri­ve in trans­lat­ing the Gene­va-based biotech’s 3D bio­fab­ri­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies to new ther­a­peu­tics, start­ing from a pro­gram in rare con­gen­i­tal cran­io­fa­cial dis­or­ders.

→ Brick­ell Biotech has hired in­dus­try vet­er­an and Lil­ly $LLY Chief Mar­ket­ing Of­fi­cer Robert Brown to take the reins at the der­ma­tol­ogy com­pa­ny as it preps a late-stage tri­al eval­u­at­ing its drug, sof­piro­ni­um bro­mide, in pa­tients with ex­ces­sive un­der­arm sweat­ing in the first half of 2019. Brown, who has spent over three decades at Lil­ly, is set to re­place Brick­ell’s cur­rent CEO and co-founder Regi­nald Hardy on Jan­u­ary 1.

Bo Rode Hansen is step­ping up from a CSO po­si­tion to take the top job at Genevant. Un­like the rest of Vivek Ra­maswamy’s biotech fam­i­ly, the com­pa­ny is not in-li­cens­ing late-stage pro­grams, but build­ing a pipeline from scratch us­ing Ar­bu­tus’ RNA tech, with the aim of de­liv­er­ing more than five in-house and part­nered can­di­dates for clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment by 2020. Hansen, the for­mer glob­al head of RNA at Roche with 50 dis­cov­ery pro­grams un­der his belt, will play a lead­ing role along­side a sea­soned ex­ec team.

→ A year af­ter Mary Szela left the helm of Nov­e­l­ion Ther­a­peu­tics $NVLN, the rare dis­ease biotech is shak­ing up its CEO of­fice again. Jef­frey Hack­man, the for­mer COO who’s been fill­ing in, has re­signed as in­ter­im CEO, pass­ing the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to gen­er­al coun­sel Ben­jamin Harsh­barg­er. Hav­ing helped se­cure a re­cent loan fa­cil­i­ty, Harsh­barg­er is charged with the grand turn­around mis­sion by first fix­ing the cap­i­tal struc­ture.

→ Al­most a year af­ter step­ping down from Syn­er­gy Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals — a com­pa­ny he found­ed and co-in­vent­ed the lead drug for — Gary Ja­cob has land­ed at a mi­cro­bio­me biotech in Aus­tralia. As CEO, Ja­cob is ex­pect­ed to chan­nel both his de­vel­op­ment, fi­nan­cial and com­mer­cial ex­per­tise in steer­ing Im­muron’s $IM­RN pipeline of oral­ly de­liv­ered poly­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies, which is led by a pro­gram for liv­er dis­eases.

→ Fol­low­ing a wide-rang­ing ca­reer fea­tur­ing stints at No­var­tis, L’Ore­al and SBM Man­age­ment Ser­vices, Stephan Jack­man has been ap­point­ed CEO of Alza­mend Neu­ro, a biotech de­vel­op­ing a cou­ple of Alzheimer’s drug can­di­dates out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of South Flori­da. Pri­or to the new role, Jack­man was fo­cused on ad­vanc­ing cures for mos­qui­to borne in­fec­tious dis­eases as COO of En­naid Ther­a­peu­tics.

→ New­ly pub­lic Ma­gen­ta Ther­a­peu­tics $MG­TA has scooped Ja­son Ryan from Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine to be its chief op­er­at­ing and fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer. The high fly­ing Cam­bridge start­up, which has a port­fo­lio fo­cused on bone mar­row trans­plant, can ben­e­fit from Ryan’s ex­pe­ri­ence in cap­i­tal cre­ation and al­lo­ca­tion as well as com­mer­cial plan­ning, says CEO Ja­son Gard­ner, as demon­strat­ed in his ef­forts with Foun­da­tion’s re­cent sale to Roche.  

→ Gothen­burg, Swe­den-based Iso­fol has hired Roger Tell — a bio­phar­ma vet who’s al­so run mul­ti­ple tri­als as a prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor — to run its clin­i­cal pro­gram as it ad­vances its lead prod­uct can­di­date in­to Phase III. Ar­foli­tixorin, de­vel­oped through a part­ner­ship with Mer­ck KGaA, is de­signed to boost the ef­fects of chemother­a­py main­ly in col­orec­tal can­cer. As CSO and SVP of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, Tell will al­so over­see  sci­en­tif­ic re­search and tech­ni­cal op­er­a­tions.

→ With its Phase III pro­grams well un­der­way, Apel­lis Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals $APLS has tapped Adam Townsend to plot a mar­ket­ing plan for APL-2 — its com­ple­ment C3 in­hibitor look­ing to ri­val Soliris in parox­ys­mal noc­tur­nal he­mo­glo­bin­uria — and al­so build a fran­chise in ge­o­graph­ic at­ro­phy, an ad­vanced form of age-re­lat­ed mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion. The new chief com­mer­cial joins from Bio­gen, where he helped lead the launch­es of Tec­fidera and Spin­raza.

→ Fol­low­ing an 11-year ca­reer run­ning clin­i­cal op­er­a­tions for mul­ti­ple units — in­clud­ing the oph­thalmic fran­chise — at No­var­tis, Fabio Baschiera is jump­ing to an oph­thal­mol­o­gy start­up backed by the phar­ma gi­ant. His new ti­tle at Oculis will be VP of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. Al­so join­ing the Swiss biotech: Louie-Anne Gau­thi­er, who will now scout deals for Oculis’ eye drop al­ter­na­tives for in­jectable drugs as its VP of strate­gic mar­ket­ing, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and li­cens­ing.

UP­DAT­ED: FDA’s golodirsen CRL: Sarep­ta’s Duchenne drugs are dan­ger­ous to pa­tients, of­fer­ing on­ly a small ben­e­fit. And where's that con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al?

Back last summer, Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram told Duchenne MD families and investors that the FDA’s shock rejection of their second Duchenne MD drug golodirsen was due to some concerns regulators raised about the risk of infection and the possibility of kidney toxicity. But when pressed to release the letter for all to see, he declined, according to a report from BioPharmaDive, saying that kind of move “might not look like we’re being as respectful as we’d like to be.”

He went on to assure everyone that he hadn’t misrepresented the CRL.

But Ingram’s public remarks didn’t include everything in the letter, which — following the FDA’s surprise about-face and unexplained approval — has now been posted on the FDA’s website and broadly circulated on Twitter early Wednesday.

The CRL raises plenty of fresh questions about why the FDA abruptly decided to reverse itself and hand out an OK for a drug a senior regulator at the FDA believed — 5 months ago, when he wrote the letter — is dangerous to patients. It also puts the spotlight back on Sarepta $SRPT, which failed to launch a confirmatory study of eteplirsen, which was only approved after a heated internal controversy at the FDA. Ellis Unger, director of CDER’s Office of Drug Evaluation I, notes that study could have clarified quite a lot about the benefit and risks associated with their drugs — which can cost as much as a million dollars per patient per year, depending on weight.

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2019 Trin­i­ty Drug In­dex Eval­u­ates Ac­tu­al Com­mer­cial Per­for­mance of Nov­el Drugs Ap­proved in 2016

Fewer Approvals, but Neurology Rivals Oncology and Sees Major Innovations

This report, the fourth in our Trinity Drug Index series, outlines key themes and emerging trends in the industry as we progress towards a new world of targeted and innovative products. It provides a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of novel drugs approved by the FDA in 2016, scoring each on its commercial performance, therapeutic value, and R&D investment (Table 1: Drug ranking – Ratings on a 1-5 scale).

How to cap­i­talise on a lean launch

For start-up biotechnology companies and resource stretched pharmaceutical organisations, launching a novel product can be challenging. Lean teams can make setting a launch strategy and achieving your commercial goals seem like a colossal undertaking, but can these barriers be transformed into opportunities that work to your brand’s advantage?
We spoke to Managing Consultant Frances Hendry to find out how Blue Latitude Health partnered with a fledgling subsidiary of a pharmaceutical organisation to launch an innovative product in a
complex market.
What does the launch environment look like for this product?
FH: We started working on the product at Phase II and now we’re going into Phase III trials. There is a significant unmet need in this disease area, and everyone is excited about the launch. However, the organisation is still evolving and the team is quite small – naturally this causes a little turbulence.

Stephen Hahn, AP

The FDA has de­val­ued the gold stan­dard on R&D. And that threat­ens every­one in drug de­vel­op­ment

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

A few weeks ago, when Stephen Hahn was being lightly queried by Senators in his confirmation hearing as the new commissioner of the FDA, he made the usual vow to maintain the gold standard in drug development.

Neatly summarized, that standard requires the agency to sign off on clinical data — usually from two, well-controlled human studies — that prove a drug’s benefit outweighs any risks.

Over the last few years, biopharma has enjoyed an unprecedented loosening over just what it takes to clear that bar. Regulators are more willing to drop the second trial requirement ahead of an accelerated approval — particularly if they have an unmet medical need where patients are clamoring for a therapy.

That confirmatory trial the FDA demands can wait a few years. And most everyone in biopharma would tell you that’s the right thing for patients. They know its a tonic for everyone in the industry faced with pushing a drug through clinical development. And it’s helped inspire a global biotech boom.

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UP­DAT­ED: New play­ers are jump­ing in­to the scram­ble to de­vel­op a vac­cine as pan­dem­ic pan­ic spreads fast

When the CNN news crew in Wuhan caught wind of the Chinese government’s plan to quarantine the city of 11 million people, they made a run for one of the last trains out — their Atlanta colleagues urging them on. On the way to the train station, they were forced to skirt the local seafood market, where the coronavirus at the heart of a brewing outbreak may have taken root.

And they breathlessly reported every moment of the early morning dash.

In shuttering the city, triggering an exodus of masked residents who caught wind of the quarantine ahead of time, China signaled that they were prepared to take extreme actions to stop the spread of a virus that has claimed 17 lives, sickened many more and panicked people around the globe.

CNN helped illustrate how hard all that can be.

The early reaction in the biotech industry has been classic, with small-cap companies scrambling to headline efforts to step in fast. But there are also new players in the field with new tech that has been introduced since the last of a series of pandemic panics that could change the usual storylines. And they’re volunteering for a crash course in speeding up vaccine development — a field where overnight solutions have been impossible to prove.

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Mer­ck KGaA spin­out gets first fund­ing to bring dual-act­ing can­cer mol­e­cules in­to the clin­ic

Two and a half years after launch, Merck KGaA spinout iOnctura is getting its first major round of funding.

The oncology startup raised €15 million ($16.6 million) to put its lead drug into the clinic and get its second drug past IND-enabling tests. INKEF Capital and VI Partners co-led the round and were joined by the biotech’s longtime backer M Ventures, an arm of Merck KGaA, and Schroder Adveq.

UP­DAT­ED: Eli Lil­ly’s $1.6B can­cer drug failed to spark even the slight­est pos­i­tive gain for pa­tients in its 1st PhI­II

Eli Lilly had high hopes for its pegylated IL-10 drug pegilodecakin when it bought Armo last year for $1.6 billion in cash. But after reporting a few months ago that it had failed a Phase III in pancreatic cancer, without the data, its likely value has plunged. And now we’re getting some exact data that underscore just how little positive effect it had.

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Am­gen aug­ments Asia foothold by tak­ing over Astel­las joint ven­ture in Japan

California-based Amgen, which does the bulk of its business in the United States, made its ambition to reinvigorate its growth prospects by expanding its presence in Asia clear at the sidelines of the JP Morgan healthcare conference in San Francisco earlier this month.

The Thousand Oaks-based company on Thursday executed its plan to dissolve the joint venture with Astellas — created in 2013 — to operate the unit independently in Japan. With its rapidly aging population, the region represents an appealing market for Amgen’s osteoporosis treatments Prolia and Evenity as well as a cholesterol-lowering injection Repatha.

Daphne Zohar (PureTech)

PureTech bags $200M from sale of Karuna shares — still siz­zling from promis­ing schiz­o­phre­nia da­ta

Cashing in on the exuberance around Karuna Therapeutics and its potential blockbuster CNS drug, PureTech has sold a chunk of the biotech’s shares to Goldman Sachs for $200 million.

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